A Practical List of Options in Response to Ferguson

With the near media blackout, increased use of force by the police, and the simmering unrest in Ferguson, MO in response to the shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown last Saturday, it occurs to me that many Americans who care about these things are probably feeling a sense of futility, a what-can-I-possibly-do attitude. So I’ve come up with a list. Feel free to suggest more in the comments, and I will add to it.

  1. If you live in Missouri, take 10 or so minutes to craft an email and send it to your governor and to your local and state politicians today. For the rest of the country, wait until about noon tomorrow (giving the community almost a week to deal with this but not allowing another weekend to go by without making your opinions known), and do the same at the federal level – send an email to the offices of your state representatives in D.C. as well as any office of the federal government that you think flooding their inbox may cause someone to speak out publicly. Keep your language formal, polite, but firm. Specifically call out the abuses of power and the race issues that you find most abhorrent. Submit a copy of your email to your local press and maybe it will be included in their op ed section.
  2. If you are planning a local protest, research the laws in your town before beginning. Comply with all of the rules, if possible. Create a press release, again using formal language, and inform the local press. Use the media and the Internet as much as possible. Document everything. If the police engage you while protesting, do not respond to the taunts. Taking the high road makes your argument much stronger.
  3. Talk with others about the issues surrounding.Ferguson. The race and class inequities that exist in our country are real. When engaging others, either in person or online, avoid name calling, party rhetoric, or harsh language. Don’t feed the online trolls. Keep your arguments concise and well-written. Proofread before you post anywhere.
  4. If you are uninformed about race issues in this country or think people are blowing the issues out of proportion, do some historical research. If you can’t stand to actually read boring facts, then at least watch Blazing Saddles and a few episodes of The Boondocks animated series. Then at least you can laugh while you learn something.
  5. Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into the media spin. Read enough to keep yourself informed, be active any way you can, but it won’t do anyone any good if you are constantly glued to your supposed “news” sources, merely consuming the bits of information and misinformation being fed into your brain.
  6. If you are a nonwhite American, know that the police will be watching you more closely, no matter where you live. Tensions are probably high in the departments right now, and all it will take is an eyebrow twitch to set some of the officers over the edge. Be careful. It is grossly unfair that you have to, but your safety is important.
  7. Edited to add: here is a link to a Bail and Legal fund set up to help those arrested: http://antistatestl.noblogs.org/post/2014/08/11/bail-and-legal-fund-for-those-arrested-during-ferguson-anti-police-demonstrations/ I have not yet researched the legitimacy of this, so do your homework before giving funds, but if you have the funds, please consider donating.

Bottom line, stay smart. Don’t allow yourself to be numb or wash your hands of America yet, but keep your anger and frustration focused and constructive rather than destructive.

The Tragedies That Change Us

Memorial to Virginia Tech students – image from The Telegraph

As I was searching my old journals for poems and snippets to post when I get busy next week, I came across this section of my morning pages that I wrote riding the city bus to grad school the day after the Virginia Tech massacre.

I want to cry out over it, this society of ours. I want to weep and tear out my hair, to scream and shake people out of their apathy. But I sit on a bus, not making eye contact, with a lump in my throat. And I will shove the tragedy from my mind, and joke and laugh. And behind it all, I’ll feel an empty space in my soul. Another missed opportunity to start the revolution.

Reading this got me thinking about all the moments of violence that have happened in my lifetime and how each has changed me profoundly. And also the media circus that has surrounded each. I mean, America has “lost its innocence” more times than is even possible in my 31 years. By the very definition of the phrase, shouldn’t each individual only lose their innocence once? Or is the naivety of our American culture such that once the dust clears (in some cases literally), we pull a blanket over our heads again? Or is that just human nature? I don’t know. To use the Garden of Eden metaphor, though, humanity doesn’t lose the knowledge it gained by eating the forbidden fruit once they were kicked out of Eden.

For me, the exact moment I lost my innocence was when the Oklahoma City bombing happened. I was twelve. As a precocious twelve year old, I had already read Orwell’s Animal Farm the year before because my older brother had a copy laying around, and I understood it to a large extent. And I knew there were “bad people” in the world that did “bad things”, I knew about war and death, but the Oklahoma City bombing was my first moment of shattering.

Oklahoma City bombing – image from History.com

I couldn’t believe that someone would target babies and young children. And when I went to my mother sobbing, asking how someone could do such a thing, she had no answer. When I followed it up with “how could God allow this to happen?” for the first time (first of many), she had no answer there either. So this was the moment I was disillusioned of adults having the answers, and the moment I first questioned my religious upbringing. My innocence irrevocably lost. And yes, each time another tragedy struck, I was horrified. Columbine happened on my spring break, and my sister and I watched the live feed. My mother called me in college to turn on the T.V. on 9/11, and I saw the second plane hit. I still don’t think I’ve entirely processed my feelings regarding the Sandy Hook shooting. But I never was able to lull myself back into my innocence after the Oklahoma City bombing.

Life is full of moments that shift you (or should be, at least). Positive and negative moments that force you to grow and evolve. I still try to figure out the why sometimes, because that’s what I do, but I know that I never will know everything. Finding the answers to some questions inevitably only leads to more questions. And, for me, that’s what life is about. I wouldn’t ever want to blindly follow or forget any of the life lessons I’ve learned.

Help for an LAX Shooting Survivor?

On Monday, I found out that I knew one of those shot last Friday at LAX from my time spent in CA.  And I was shocked.  Brian Ludmer is going to be okay.  He was shot in the calf, and the doctors are confident that he will recover over time.  But his medical expenses are going to be high, so his family has started raising money to help out.  If you are so inclined, you can donate here.  No one should have to have medical debt the size of a mortgage to recover, especially in a situation like this.  If you don’t have the funds to donate, please consider spreading the word or just taking a moment to send good thoughts his way.

I had the opportunity to work with Brian for a couple of years.  I knew him to be quiet but always smiling, incredibly hard-working, and his strength of character just shines through him.   Here’s the picture they have up on the fundraiser.

Brian Ludmer

I knew peripherally about the shooting at LAX, but I was working so many long hours this weekend that I didn’t care about looking into it more.  Once I found out that I knew someone involved, though, I started to care.  And then I felt angry and ashamed that I was so numb to begin with.  A feeling of “not again” and that was it.  We should care.  We need to care.  Not be incapacitated by our caring, but there needs to be some emotional connection.  Apathy is the easy answer, but it’s apathy, to a large extent, that allows the problems of our society to continue.  A human is a human, and life is life, and no matter where in the world lives are being destroyed, we should care.

Brian was lucky.  Others aren’t, every single day.  It’s sobering to think about.

Musings on the Boston Marathon Bombing

I found out about the Boston marathon bombing after spending a lovely day celebrating my son’s second birthday.  And I’ve mostly been thinking about the dichotomy of my personal life and the national view, or the micro versus the macro if we want to get into scientific terms.  I worry about having brought a child into this world that seems to be on a collision course, but I also hope that my son is part of a generation that carries within it the potential for change.  That my generation is breaking the ground and planting and nurturing the seeds well enough for his generation to grow into their full potential.

The worrisome thing, for me, is that these violent acts have become normalized, a regular part of my life.  I have seen America’s “shattered innocence” too many times.  I still feel sad for the victims, and I feel anger towards the perpetrator, but I am not surprised by the bombings.  This kind of blase attitude towards violence is unacceptable to me, but I don’t know what I can do about.  And really, how much worse is it for those that have lived in war-torn lands for decades?  Where you never know if a bomb or sniper’s bullet will find you?  I think of places like that, many of them torn apart by the United States’ interest in the area, and I can’t help but see why there are many people who hate Americans.  We are so safe, so trusting, so innocent in so many ways, and so unconcerned by how our actions as a nation are tearing the world apart.  But we are also a powder keg, and the violence is going to get worse before it gets better.

You wait, there will be a cry for action.  More civil liberties will be chipped away, all in the name of safety.  Will they install cameras on the streets of all the major cities now?  Require security checkpoints for any large public gathering, including bag searches?  The calm voices of reason and research  will be drowned by the hysterical voices of both sides, screaming for more safety or for more freedom.  It will be the mess of post-9/11 all over again.  I’ve already seen people politicizing this, to the point of actually reading that someone hopes it’s a terrorist attack so people can see how bad a president Obama is.  Just disgusting.  No matter what your opinion of the man or the office is, to gleefully wish that such a tragedy acknowledges your narrow worldview is repulsive.

The last thought I have on the matter is that while I am not a proponent for using violent means to cause change or express your opinion, if you are someone heading in that direction, choose your targets with care.  If you must be an agent for chaos and destruction, do so in a way that actually causes some good.  Maybe consider cyber terrorism instead of physical terrorism that takes life and limb.  Watch “Fight Club” a few times.  Join Anonymous.  Target those in power instead of innocents.  Don’t take the cowardly way out.

I know this is rambling and out there.  I’m just feeling sore, raw, and open, like a flaky scab oozing a little bit.  You have to learn not to mind me too much when I’m feeling this maudlin.

Mob Mentality and the Response to Steubenville & Town of Clay

                               Warning: there are potential triggers below                                     in regards to rape and violence.

The internet has been on fire this week with the Steubenville rape.  I actually had started thinking about rape and our society the weekend before because of this horrible rape and murder that happened in my hometown: http://www.wbng.com/news/local/Man-in-Custody-for-Murder-and-Rape–198626431.html  These incidents are two sides of the same multi-faced beast, and I’ve felt a heavy weight in my mind and heart for a week now.

My point for the following is not to rehash what has happened but to discuss a shift in my way of thinking and to explore possible ways to change our culture for the better.

There have been a lot of really thoughtful, honest blogs and articles on the Steubenville case and the issue of rape and the awful coverage in the national media.  But there have also been a lot of hurtful, hateful, angry, careless comments in response to those thoughtful blogs and articles.  Hatred toward both the victims and the perpetrators.  And this has been one of the most troubling aspects for me.  I can understand the anger.  I know if someone hurt my child, I would want to kill them, plain and simple.  But the lynch mob mentality, taking pleasure at the thought that the torturers will in turn be tortured, frightens me.

While the bulk of my compassion and sympathy lies with the victims and their families, I also feel heartsick for the perpetrators, and that is honestly a new feeling for me.  I just can’t dehumanize violent and sick people anymore.  I abhor rape and violence, and I think the destruction of a child (whether via sexual or physical or mental abuse) is the worst possible thing any human being can do.  But the truth is that something is broken in the minds of those men and calling for their blood or taking delight in the fact that they will be raped and beaten in prison does nothing to fix the underlying issues at stake.  Personally, in the case of the murderer/child rapist, when there is no possible way that they have the wrong person in holding, I think it would be both a kindness to the man and safest for society if he were quietly and quickly killed.  There is no fixing that level of madness, and there is no point in torturing him for the rest of his (possibly short) life in prison.  But that’s not an option in our current justice system.  For the two Steubenville boys, some kind of punishment is obviously necessary, but our prison system won’t rehabilitate them.  It won’t teach them to respect a woman’s body.  Once someone is that far gone, is there anyway to help them?  I’m not sure.

The phrase “personal responsibility” is bandied about a lot, usually by someone who holds themselves above the person or group to whom they are referring.  But part of the problem in America today is our insular approach to life.  Our historic sense of “rugged individualism” couples with some fairly twisted ideas held over from our Puritanical days, and people are more and more isolated and left with less and less support from family and community.  Our society truly failed all of those involved in these crimes on a multitude of levels, and that is tragic.  I feel like we need to start thinking about “societal responsibility”.  And as corny as that old song is, the children really are our future, and we should be teaching them well and let them lead the way.  So it makes the most sense to devote the bulk of our resources as a nation on the new generations that we haven’t destroyed yet instead of on defense and the aging populations.  But as that will never happen with the current power holders in our country, the best thing we can do is hope for small changes in our own daily lives and via the connections we’ve made online, which could eventually change things for the better.

  • Continue having and improve honest discussions about sex and rape and male/female relations and the issues we have in society.  Don’t bully people when you engage them to your point of view.  Listen, respond, and keep it as civil as possible.  Don’t automatically shut down people because they are “just a male/female/black/white/straight/gay/uneducated/overeducated idiot”.  Don’t mistake people’s honest questions as insults, and don’t use qualifiers like “never” unless it’s true because the more we use extreme language, the less powerful it becomes.  (Ex. “it NEVER is okay to rape” is fine to use, but “it NEVER is okay for blank to have an opinion on rape” is not okay to use).
  • Going hand in hand with the above.  We MUST get over our issues with talking about sex.  We are a society that obsesses about sex, we’re blindsided with it, but we’re not supposed to talk about it.  Look at what is allowed violence-wise in a PG or PG-13 movie and then look at what is allowed sex-wise.  That is the true perversity.  Thus most of us walk around with a really messed up sense of what a healthy sex-life looks like.  We also need to acknowledge the sexual nature in all of us and again, be honest with each other about it.  I love the notion of teaching “enthusiastic consent” as part of this.  People should learn the difference between seduction and coercion, should learn as soon as they hit puberty that it’s okay to have certain thoughts but not okay to always act on those thoughts.
  • We need to teach our children at the earliest age (with age-appropriate guides, of course) about respecting their bodies and the bodies and minds of others.  We need to honor their inquisitive minds, and teach them that every person is a person with their unique rights.  And that your individual rights STOP when it infringes on another person’s individual rights.

By doing all of the above, we will create a safe place for people to come forward when they are raped or abused.  We will finally stop victim-blaming, and we can hopefully address issues before they become life-altering crimes.

I don’t know if I was able to articulate everything as well as I wanted to.  It’s a tough issue to tackle, but one that is in desperate need of addressing, like so much in our society today.

Necessary Unplugging

My life has gotten crazy-busy lately with my day job and trying to finish up my holiday gifts that I’m making for people, and we’re going through a lot of transitions right now with my son which means emotional changes and even less sleep than usual.  Then the school shooting happened Friday in CT and I just had to shut off part of my brain.

As a Virgo, I want to put everything in neat little boxes in my head, and this won’t be contained in a mental box.  At least not yet.  So I’ve built a little pen around it, I go a few days without looking at the news and then catch up a little and cry, and then I put those feelings back in its enclosure.  My heart breaks for those children, both those killed and the survivors.  I mourn the loss of so much potential in those little lives cut short, and I feel the sickness of our society growing by the day.  It touches me even more deeply as a parent now, because my son is a piece of me.  I told my mother that this raises my desire to homeschool, and even if some madmen goes on a rampage in a mall or something, at least then I have a chance of being killed with my son.  Because I don’t want to know if I’m strong enough to live through a tragedy like that, or live through it with any shred of sanity remaining. 

That being said, I am also disgusted by the hurt some people are causing as they discuss this issue.  You can’t pinpoint one thing that led to this event and fix it, and we shouldn’t be reactive in coming up with solutions.  We should be able to have honest dialogs with each other and for once actually try to look at the big picture, but the problem is the big picture sometimes feels too overwhelming to fix, so we narrow in on single issues.

As for what we can do individually, I said this on my crunchy mom facebook group: “I think that something is just so broken in our society – the rise of those with mental health issues (all along the spectrum) coupled with the rise of immuno-diseases (again, all along the spectrum) has GOT to be tied with our diet, our lifestyle, our focus for life, and the chemicals we are exposed to in the products we can’t live without. Not to mention the generations raised on formula instead of breastmilk. You can’t pinpoint or fix just one thing, which makes it seem hopeless, but I think we can live each day the best we can, as lovingly as we can, and influence those immediately around us, and that CAN create ripples that change things for the better.”  We can also urge our corrupt government to pass legislation that actually is for the benefit of society, whatever that may mean.

I am retreating again, probably at least until Christmas Eve.  I need to process this more and also maintain some holiday cheer by burying it a little more.  I have opinions forming, but they are still nebulous.  I may have some rather dark artwork to come out in January too, as a purging of these emotions I’m still burying.